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Soybean plants and Rhizobium japonicum 122 DES, a hydrogen uptake-positive strain, were cultured in media purified to remove Ni. Supplemental Ni had no significant effect on the dry matter or total N content of plants. However, the addition of Ni to both nitrate-grown and symbiotically grown plants resulted in a 7- to 10-fold increase in urease activity (urea amidohydrolase, EC 188.8.131.52) in leaves and significantly increased the hydrogenase activity (EC 184.108.40.206) in isolated nodule bacteroids. When cultured under chemolithotrophic conditions, free-living R. japonicum required Ni for growth and for the expression of hydrogenase activity. Hydrogenase activity was minimal or not detectable in cells incubated either without Ni or with Ni and chloramphenicol. Ni is required for derepression of hydrogenase activity and apparently protein synthesis is necessary for the participation of Ni in hydrogenase expression. The addition of Cr, V, Sn, and Pb in place of Ni failed to stimulate the activity of hydrogenase in R. japonicum and urease in soybean leaves. The evidence indicates that Ni is an important micronutrient element in the biology of the soybean plant and R. japonicum.